California County Rejects Needle Exchange Program Proposals
The Riverside County, Calif., Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to bar needle-exchange clinics from operating in the county and to oppose pending state legislation that would allow injection drug users to purchase needles from a pharmacy without a prescription, the Los Angeles Times reports. Tuesday's proposals were County Public Health Officer Gary Feldman's third attempt to convince local officials to declare injection drug use a public-health emergency and to allow the Inland AIDS Project to conduct needle exchange in the county. According to the Riverside County Community Health Agency, the county has an estimated 12,000 injection drug users, and approximately 60% of hepatitis C cases, 23% of AIDS cases and 4% of hepatitis B cases in the county can be attributed to injection drug use (Mehta, Los Angeles Times, 5/14). There are currently more than 24 needle exchange programs in California, including programs in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
As an alternative to the needle exchange program, Feldman on Tuesday sought the board's support for state legislation that would allow pharmacists to sell 30 syringes at a time without a prescription. The legislation has been approved in the state Senate and will soon be heard by an Assembly committee. Feldman said that the bill was not "as good an option" as needle exchange because it lacks "hands on contact with folks to give them information, referrals, support and a pathway into rehabilitation" (Mehta, Los Angeles Times, 5/13). He said that neither needle exchange nor pharmaceutical sales of needles would be a complete solution to the problem, but he added, "[I]t gets us part of the way there ... [in] an epidemic of such human and financial proportion that even a partial solution is a step forward." However, the board rejected the proposal (Los Angeles Times, 5/14). In another compromise attempt, Supervisor Bob Buster, who supports needle exchange programs, proposed the creation of a pilot program to determine the efficacy of the needle exchange. No action was taken on the proposal (Los Angeles Times, 5/13).